The U.N. Security Council this morning authorized the creation of a new force of 12,640 U.N. peacekeepers to consolidate French military gains against Islamist militants in northern Mali.
The new force -- to be called the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Force (MINUSMA) and comprised primarily of African soldiers -- is expected to secure several northern towns, where an insurgency by Islamic militants and Tuareg separatists was recently put down by French special forces and their feeble Malian army allies.
The council's action comes as the French military -- which intervened last January in Mali at the government's invitation to repulse what they feared was an all-out offensive on the capital -- is looking to withdraw most of its forces from Mali, and to place the U.N. in command of thousands of African troops that have already deployed in Mali in support of the French operation.
But the mandate adopted by the 15-nation council reflected the continuing uncertainty about the durability of France's military successes in Mali. A July 1 timetable for transferring peacekeeping authority to the United Nations is contingent on the further assessment of the threat posed to the peacekeepers by the armed militants. Today's resolution also authorizes French troops, operating under the command of the French government, to use military force to deter any threats against the U.N. peacekeepers.
France -- which currently has about 4,000 troops in Mali -- is hoping to scale back its presence by the end of the year, leaving a more permanent force of about 1,000 troops to carry on counterterrorism operations against remnants of the insurgency, and when needed, protect U.N. peacekeepers.
The French role has proven controversial within U.N. circles. While the U.N. is grateful that France will provide a last line of protection against the insurgents, it has expressed some misgivings about the risks of being too closely associated with a military counterterrorism campaign, fearing it would expose U.N. personnel in Mali and beyond to reprisal by extremist groups.
The U.N. resolution -- which was drafted by France -- condemns the Islamists' January 10 offensive towards southern Mali and welcomes the French decision to intervene to "stop the offensive of terrorist, extremist and armed groups." But it assigns no explicit combat role for the peacekeeping mission.
The mission -- which will be headed by a U.N. special representative -- will undertake several tasks, including securing strategic towns in northern Mali, promoting reconciliation between the Malian government, Tuareg separatists, and other groups in northern Mali that denounce any affiliation with extremist groups such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). The U.N. will also help Mali -- which saw a military coup last year -- prepare the ground for a democratic transition, including "free, fair, transparent and inclusive" presidential and legislative elections, to be held respectively on July 7 and July 21.
The U.N. peacekeepers will be granted limited authority to protect civilians "under imminent threat of physical violence" if they are able and if such attacks occur in the area where the U.N. is present. They will also monitor human rights violations, including those committed by Malian government forces; help protect cultural and historical landmarks; use "all means necessary, within the limits of their capacities and areas of deployment" to help the Malians; and "as feasible and appropriate" hold human rights abusers accountable for their crimes.
The resolution hints -- but does not include explicit orders -- that the U.N. could use that authority to apprehend any future suspects wanted by the International Criminal Court.
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The United States has abandoned an initiative to authorize a U.N. peacekeeping mission to monitor and report on human rights abuses in Western Sahara in the face of intensive resistance from Morocco, which exercises military control over the former Spanish colony.
Last week, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pushed for a broader mandate for the U.N. peacekeeping mission to monitor and report on rights abuses in Western Sahara and in Tindouf, Algeria, where more than 100,000 Sahrawi refugees live in a cluster of desert encampments.
The initial move -- which was applauded by human rights advocates -- encountered intense resistance from Morocco. Last week, Rabat protested the U.S. action by cancelling joint U.S.-Moroccan military exercises. The Moroccan king, Mohammed VI, also objected to the U.S. move in a letter to the White House. Morocco made clear that they would not allow the human rights monitors into Western Sahara.
The former Spanish possession is Africa's only remaining non-self-governing territory, with some 500,000 people in a sparsely populated desert expanse the size of Britain. Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, when the Spanish withdrew. Mauritania ultimately abandoned its claim, and Morocco claimed their share of the territory in 1979. Morocco -- aided by France's diplomacy -- has fiercely and successfully resisted efforts by the Polisario Front, which enjoys diplomatic support from Algeria, to claim independence.
The Algerian-backed Polisario rebels fought Moroccan troops until 1991, when a U.N. brokered ceasefire called for a referendum that would allow Saharans the ability to vote on an independence referendum. But Morocco has never allowed such a vote to occur, and now insists that Western Sahara remain as an autonomous part of Morocco. Morocco, however, has been unable to convince any other government to recognize its claim to Western Sahara.
For years, the government in Rabay has successfully blocked a raft of initiative by states, including Britain, to grant the U.N. mission a role in monitoring human rights abuses.
Last week, Rice surprised her counterparts in the so-called Friends of Western Sahara group -- which includes the governments of the United States, France, Britain, Spain and Russia -- by indicating that Washington would press for authorization of U.N. human rights monitors in a Security Council resolution renewing the U.N. peacekeeping mission's mandate for another year. But the proposal faced resistance in the U.N. Security Council from Morocco, the council's lone Arab government, and other key powers like France, China, and Russia.
Earlier this week, the United States dropped the proposal. The council is now set to vote tomorrow on a resolution that would renew the peacekeeping mandate, but without human rights monitors. Instead, the resolution offers far softer language stressing the importance of human rights, and encouraging key players to promote human rights and develop "independent and credible measures" to ensure those rights are respected.
Senior Security Council diplomats said that the United States had underestimated the depth of Moroccan opposition. They also complained that the U.S. delegation had failed to adequately consult with its key partners, including Britain, France, and Spain, before pressing ahead with the initiative.
However, one U.N. diplomat defending the U.S. position countered: "Not only did the U.S. coordinate with its allies and partners in the same timeframe as they typically do, but the positions of some important members of the Friends Groups had softened considerably on human rights."
Ahmad Boukhari, the U.N. representative of the Polisario Front, said that a stronger U.S. push could have resulted in a tougher resolution, but that he considered it a "moral victory" that the United States even put the matter on the table. Asked why the initiative was dropped, he said, "There were some difficulties whose nature is unknown to me."
The Moroccan mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
Human rights advocates, meanwhile, expressed disappointment at the U.S. reversal. "The U.S. starting position was right on target, and had it prevailed would likely have contributed to an improvement of human rights conditions both in Western Sahara and in the refugee camps around Tindouf, in Algeria," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "Sadly the U.S. neither stuck to its guns or secured a compromise allowing enhanced human rights monitoring. Moroccan intransigence and the lack of vocal support by allies such as the UK did not help."
Britain, he noted, had previously supported the U.N. human rights mission in the past "and should have done so vocally again this year."
A spokeswoman for the British mission to the United Nations, Iona Thomas, said: "The United Kingdom strongly supports the upholding of human rights in Western Sahara. We welcome that the resolution, if adopted, will emphasize the importance of improving the human rights situation in Western Sahara and Tindouf camps."
The United States move followed a report earlier this month by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who urged "further international engagement" with the human rights situation in Western Sahara and Tindouf. "Given ongoing reports of human rights violations the need for independent, impartial, comprehensive and sustained monitoring of the human right situations in both Western Sahara and the camps becomes ever more pressing."
The U.N. Security Council has been pressing Morocco to accept greater scrutiny of its human rights record. Last year, Rabat agreed to allow periodic visits by independent U.N. human rights experts, and experts from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"From the outset, our aim has been a renewal of MINURSO's mandate that is consistent with our goal of bringing about a peaceful, sustainable, and mutually agreed solution to the conflict whereby the human rights of all individuals are respected," said Payton Knopf, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "As the secretary general underscored in his recent report on Western Sahara, human rights remains a serious issue that deserves the council's attention."
"The draft resolution contains additional language this year encouraging enhanced efforts and further progress on human rights," he added. "Human rights in Western Sahara and the Tindouf camps will continue to have the full attention of the U.N. Security Council and the United States, and we will be monitoring progress closely over the coming year."
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When France eventually ends its military operations in Mali, the French military intends to position a rapid reaction force somewhere in West Africa to support African peacekeepers facing serious challenges to their authority by Islamist insurgents, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the plans.
French diplomats have begun detailing plans with the United Nations, the United States, and other key powers for a so-called "beyond the horizon" force that would be ready to carry out combat operations within Mali in the event that the Islamic fundamentalist rebels threaten to return en masse.
Paris has not informed its allies where this new force would be deployed, but diplomats said it would most likely be in Senegal, Niger, or Chad, where France maintains military bases.
France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud, meanwhile, has sought to assure his counterparts that Paris will not abruptly pull out of Mali in the coming weeks, saying that the French military presence will be phased out gradually to allow time for a new U.N. peacekeeping mission to get its bearings.
The French military intervened in Mali on Jan. 11, after a coalition of local and foreign insurgents, including members of al Qaeda's North African franchise, launched a military offensive in a series of strategic towns in central Mali, raising fears of a dash to the capital, Bamako, where thousands of French nationals reside. The French force, which has grown to more than 4,000 soldiers, has reclaimed control of several cities that had fallen under control of the insurgents, but sparks of fighting have continued, particularly in the strategic northern city of Gao.
The discussions over the new force mark the first step in an intensive French effort to craft a diplomatic and security strategy that will allow France to reduce its presence in Mali, while ensuring that U.N. blue helmets will be in a position to maintain security.
Paris is hoping to begin work as quickly as possible on a resolution that would formally establish a new African-led peacekeeping mission, responsible for maintaining security in several northern Malian towns and support political talks between the country's government in Bamako and insurgents, thus paving the ground for national elections. French officials are hoping to convene a Security Council meeting as early as Wednesday to begin the push for a new resolution.
But the French are facing a major hurdle from Mali's rulers, who came to power as a result of a military coup and who fear that a U.N. force would not only be too weak to confront their northern enemies, but prod them into yielded power to a newly elected government. Diplomats say work on a peacekeeping mission cannot proceed until the Malian leadership makes a formal, and unequivocal, request to the United Nations for troops.
U.N.-based sources said that they expect France, and possibly other Western governments, to contribute a small number of staff officers in the eventual U.N. mission's headquarters. But the vast majority of troops will come from the region. There are currently more than 5,000 African troops from Chad, Niger, and other West African countries in Mali. The African troops, which are currently supporting the French and Malian military campaign against the country's insurgency, are expected to serve in the new U.N. peacekeeping mission.
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France's defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, today restated the French military's intention to declare victory in Mali, pack up their kit, and leave in "a matter of weeks," though ongoing counterterrorism operations in northern Mali would continue for "a while."
"We have no reason to stay," he told France 2 television.
But France does have reason to stay, actually a few.
For one, the Malian army is unfit to secure its own towns and borders from foreign and domestic insurgents.
Second, African forces assembled on the quick lack the capacity to hold territory recently captured by French troops.
And third, international efforts at the United Nations to oversee an international peacekeeping force comprised of some 6,000 to 10,000 blue helmets remain stalled in New York.
"The French know that they need to leave something behind, but they haven't defined what that is yet," said a senior U.N.-based diplomat. "We obviously have a keen interest in knowing what that is."
Earlier this week, Mali's president sent a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon requesting a peacekeeping mission. But the letter was drafted in "ambiguous terms" that raised questions about its commitment to a U.N. mission. For instance, Mali imposed some reservations that precluded the transfer from an African-led to a U.N.-led mission until Mali has established complete sovereign control over its territory.
The Malian gambit left many in the Security Council in the dark.
"Now, we don't have any further information on the way forward," said one council diplomat.
"I have no clear picture of what the options for the immediate future might be," added another council diplomat, noting that France has yet to introduce a detailed plan outlining what sort of international military presence would remain in Mali after it leaves.
The only thing that is clear, the official said, is that France is keen to go.
"President [Francois] Hollande did not want to intervene in the first place, and his [Socialist] party did not like it," the official said. But the "French are a little bit scared about the ability" of African forces to fill the security vacuum when they go.
U.N. officials and Security Council diplomats say they are confident France will leave behind some sort of heavily-armed rapid reaction force in support of an African-led U.N. peacekeeping mission. One diplomat said that France's announcement of its intent to leave is in part calculated to force the Malian government -- which cannot survive without foreign military backing -- to accept a U.N. mission.
Herve Ladsous, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, met in Ireland last week with the French defense minister. The French minister assured the U.N. that it would leave some troops in Mali, but did not say whether they would serve under U.N. or French command.
Mali's trepidation reflects the misgivings the government has about what a U.N. peacekeeping force might mean: a process of national reconciliation that would require the government strike a compromise with its bitter foes, the restive Tuareg insurgents who triggered the armed uprising in northern Mali early last year before it was overtaken by Islamists. It would also set the stage for a political transition, including elections that would require many of the country's military leaders -- who came to power through a military coup -- to make way for new leaders. And it would ratchet up pressure on Malians to hold their own troops accountable for atrocities carried out in recent weeks.
"Once again, there seems to be a total disconnect between the reality on the ground in Mali and the politics in New York," said Richard Gowan, a specialist on U.N. peacekeeping at New York University's Center on International Cooperation. "I think that there is a sense that while the Malian authorities are being ambiguous that ultimately they will have to bow to French pressure. And if the French insists on a U.N. force then they will have no alternative but to comply."
As for the U.N. planners, Gowan said, the U.N. "secretariat is still working on the assumption they have to have plans in place to take over responsibility in April."
But the challenge, added a second U.N.-based official, is how the secretariat can prepare a major peacekeeping mission without clear instructions from France, and more widely from the Security Council, on what precisely they will be expected to do. "We can do some table top planning," the official said. "But we really can't start until the council gives us a clear range of options for a peacekeeping mission."
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The first phase of France's military offensive against Islamist insurgents in Mali will likely come to an end in the coming weeks or months, giving way to a more open-ended, nation-building exercise. It remains unclear what such a mission would look like, what it would do, and who would formally lead it. Though one thing appears all but certain: France is likely to be at the center.
In Paris and New York, peacekeeping and military planners have been seeking to fashion a plan that could ensure long-term stability in northern towns recently captured from militant Islamists by French and Malian forces, prod Bamako to negotiate a political settlement with the country's restive Tuaregs, and ultimately lay the groundwork for national elections.
So far, the United States, France, and Britain appear to be coalescing around a proposal to send U.N. peacekeepers to Mali to secure newly captured towns and to serve as a facilitator for future political talks. The proposal is likely to face some resistance from African powers, who will provide most of the troops for a peacekeeping mission, and who have demonstrated an increasing appetite for managing regional military and peacekeeping operations.
But the more immediate question is about France's intention. Paris has not decided what military and peacekeeping role it will play in the future, if any. Here's a series of options reportedly under consideration:
1. No French force remains in Mali. On the outer range of French planning, this contingency is probably the easiest option to eliminate. There are some 6,000 French nationals living in and around the capital of Bamako, and it was their fate that prodded French special forces into action in the first place. They're not likely to allow a repeat.
2. France could leave behind a battalion of up to 800 troops or so, kit them out with blue helmets, and have them provide the backbone of a future U.N. peacekeeping mission. The benefit of this strategy is that it would encourage other European powers -- who have advanced military capability and are comfortable serving under U.N. command -- to serve alongside the French and its African partners. France has played a similar role in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
3. France could leave behind an independent contingent of forces under French military command. They would serve as a guarantor for a separate U.N. peacekeeping mission, which would be comprised primarily of African peacekeepers. This is similar to the role it played in Ivory Coast, where French troops played a lead role in the military campaign to force former Ivoirian leader Laurent Gbagbo from power following his election defeat.
4. France could maintain a larger military force in Mali through a bilateral agreement with Bamako along the lines of its military presence in Chad, where French forces intervened in 1986 to protect then President Hissene Habre, who had come under attack from Libya. The French operation -- dubbed Sparrowhawk -- has never formally ended, and a small force of French troops still maintains a presence. This scenario, however, seems unlikely. French President Francois Hollande has voiced reluctance to keep boots on the ground and his U.N. envoy, Gerard Araud, has insisted that France is keen to end the military operation as soon as possible, though not sooner than necessary. At the moment, France has begun discussion with other key international and African powers about the prospects of presenting a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a new force.
The U.N. has had mixed feelings about France's approach to Mali. In December, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed serious misgivings about the wisdom of France's initial plan to have African and European officers, and supported by the United Nations, back a campaign by the Malian army to retake the north by force from Islamist insurgents, saying that military force should only be used as a "last resort." Ban's hesitance reflected anxiety about the consequences of direct U.N. participation in a military operation against al Qaeda. While Ban has applauded the French military intervention as a necessary response to a sudden Islamist military advance towards the capital, Ban has resisted appeals for greater direct support for the mission.
"I am obliged to bring to the attention of the Security Council the assessment of the Secretariat that, if the United Nations were to provide logistics support to military forces engaged in an offensive operation, it would place civilian United Nations personnel at grave risk, and undermine their ability to carry out their current tasks," Ban wrote in a January 20 letter to the Security Council.
But the view inside the U.N. has not been monolithic. The U.N.'s chief peacekeeper, Herve Ladsous, a former French diplomat, has pushed for greater involvement in the French-led military operation, primarily through the provision of logistical support for poorly equipped African troops. In the end, the Security Council will decide what role the U.N. will play in Mali. So far, that remains unclear.
Will, for instance, U.N. peacekeepers play any role in confronting the ongoing threat posed by terrorists? Will they be mandated to crack down on the illicit weapons and narcotics trade that fuels the insurgency in northern Mali? Will they be required to maintain law and order?
In the meantime, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping has already begun its own contingency planning, focusing on three key options:
1. A full-fledged U.N. peacekeeping mission led by a U.N. special representative. This is the preferred option for French, American, and British officials, as well as U.N. peacekeeping officials. It provides the U.N. political leadership with full control over the mission and gives key Western powers, particularly in Europe, greater confidence to participate. But the vast majority of peacekeepers in the mission will come from Africa and leaders there will not want to cede decision-making to the United Nations.
2. A hybrid force. Facing demands by African leaders for a greater say in regional matters, the U.N. established a joint U.N.-African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission in Darfur, Sudan. This hybrid force established the notion of joint AU leadership in the mission. The force has been viewed as a model for the future within Africa, but it has been criticized as cumbersome and ineffectual by U.N. peacekeeping officials. France and Britain strongly oppose it.
3. A compromise option would involve splitting the mission into two. The United Nations would command a stabilization force in northern Mali, where most of the fighting has occurred. A second political mission in Bamako would be managed jointly by the AU and the U.N. It would help facilitate political talks between the Malian government and the country's ethnic minorities, particularly the northern Tuaregs, and pave the way for national elections.
As the key players consider the various options, a more strategic question will have to be addressed. What kind of Mali do the French and its African and U.N. partners want to leave behind? And do they have the capacity to make that happen?
"What we are looking for is a strategy that will not return Mali to the status quo ante," said one senior U.N. official. "We need to support the rule of law and transform the institutions so that this will be the last time blue helmets are needed in Mali."
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French President Francois Hollande and his defense and foreign ministers will arrive in Bamako, Mali, tomorrow to mark the country's military victory over an Islamist-backed insurgency. But the French leader's victory lap is being marred by reports of brutal reprisal attacks by his Malian allies.
Senior French officials are voicing increasing alarm about reported abuses by Malian troops, saying they have made several formal requests to Malian authorities to rein in troops accused of summarily executing suspected insurgents.
"We are really, really worried about the situation and we are doing our utmost to avoid human rights violations," Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, told reporters. For many Malians, he said, "the sprit is not reconciliation but revenge."
The French government, he added, has instructed its troops to prevent violent reprisals by Malians soldiers against civilians, and appealed to the United Nations to deploy human rights monitors on the ground in Mali.
The French envoy's remarks follow the publication on Thursday of a report by the New York-based Human Rights Watch, claiming that Malian troops summarily executed at least 13 men in Konna and Sevare, while insurgents killed at least seven Malian soldiers, including five who were injured. The rights group expects the scale of killing is even higher.
The episode highlighted the challenges for the French and other supporters in ensuring that its military intervention in Mali does not become marred by reports of abuses by its Malian allies. Hollande's visit is intended to highlight French military successes against the Islamists, who have fled key towns they had captured during the past year, including Gao, Kidal, and the tourist outpost of Timbuktu.
Philippe Bolopion, Human Rights Watch's U.N. representative, and his colleagues visited the towns of Konna and Sevare, where they found three recently murdered corpses in a water well, executed in broad daylight by Malian troops, according to local witnesses. The rights advocates also paid a visit to a nearby police station, Bolopion recalled today in an interview with Turtle Bay.
"Do you know there are bodies of dead people in the well?" Bolopion and his companions asked the local police chief, who refused to provide his name. "Yes," he answered. "I think I've seen something in the press."
Informed that he could see the crimes for himself if he simply walked 300 meters from his office, the official declined, saying he would need instructions from his superior. "I think the whole town knows what happened, the military knows what happened, and nobody is investigating," Bolopion said. "They killed over a dozen people, most of them in broad daylight in the middle of the town, a few hundred meters from the gendarmerie."
Bolopion also said that Human Rights Watch is investigating a claim that a woman and three children were killed by a helicopter strike at their home in Konna.
The French government has informed the rights group that it was not flying at the time the attack allegedly occurred. Bolopion said the group is currently trying to establish whether the Mali army has an operational attack helicopter.
Bolopion said that the French government has made some "good statements" underscoring the need to respect human rights, but he said he would like to see France and other outside powers apply greater pressure on Mali to investigate alleged abuses by their troops. "They hold much sway over Mali's military authority and so they should be able to get them to investigate in Sevare," he said. He also said he would like to see France, which has a presence in Sevare, help secure crime scenes and protect evidence for a possible investigation by the International Criminal Court.
In an interview with France Radio Inter last Thursday, Defense Minister Jean Yves Le Drian, said there are limits to what France can do. "It's not our responsibility to maintain order in the towns; there are mayors, the mayors have returned to Gao and Timbuktu; the Malian authorities, the institutions are returning. So it's important for the Malian army, the Malian gendarmerie to ensure there are no acts of violence or reprisals, which people may be very tempted to carry out. I know orders have been given, they must be obeyed. We're very vigilant about that, and we'd also like United Nations observers to be able to ensure things are going properly in the towns we and the Malian forces have recaptured."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United States, quietly floated the idea of organizing a U.N. peacekeeping force to help stabilize Mali after France puts down the Islamist insurgency there.
Rice made the remarks in a closed-door session of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday evening, though she noted that the Obama administration had not yet officially decided to back a force of blue helmets. But she said that the existing plan to send an African-led force to the country to train the Malian army to retake control of northern Mali from the Islamists had been overtaken by the French intervention.
Rice said that the original U.N. plan -- which envisioned the Malian army as the "tip of the spear" in a military offensive against the Islamists -- is no longer viable, according to an official present at the meeting. She said the mission would likely shift from a combat mission to a stabilization mission, requiring a long-term strategy to hold territory and build up local institutions. French combat forces are unlikely to remain in Mali to do that job. "We need to be open to a blue-helmeted operation," she said, according to another official at the meeting.
The French action has sent U.N. diplomats and military planners back to drawing board to try to fashion a long-term security strategy for Mali. Several African countries, including Benin, Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, and Togo, that were planning to train the Malians to fight are now mustering forces to support the French combat operation.
The African forces lack many of the basic necessities, however, including fuel and transport. The Nigerian force commander of the African troops had to borrow a vehicle from the Nigerian embassy in Bamako, according to a U.N. official . A contingent from Togo arrived in Bamako with only enough rations to last about three days, the official said.
At a Jan. 19 summit, leaders of a West African coalition of states called for the urgent deployment of African forces and urged the United Nations to "immediately furnish the logistical support" for the African countries. The United Nations agreed to send a senior military advisor to Bamako to help coordinate the African's military planning, but it stopped short of supplying logistical support to the African forces on the grounds that it would compromise the U.N.'s impartiality.
"The United Nations must consider with the utmost care the issue of supporting offensive military operations in the light of the overall global mandate of the Organization," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in a letter to the Security Council this week. "I am obliged to bring to the attention of the Security Council the assessment of the Secretariat that, if the United Nations were to provide logistics support to military forces engaged in an offensive operation, it would place civilian United Nations personnel at grave risk, and undermine their ability to carry out their current tasks in the region."
U.N. officials say they expect Ban to get an earful from African leaders over his refusal to supply forces. African leaders are meeting at an AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Sunday and Monday. These officials have noted that the U.N. provided military support to African-led military operations in Somalia, and that U.N. peacekeepers have backed up offensive military operations by the Congolese government. Herve Ladsous, a former French official who serves as the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, favors more active U.N. support for the Africans.
"The house is still divided; some feel we need to help the Africans," said one U.N. official. "We already do it in Somalia; how do you explain to the Africans why you can't do it in Mali?"
The debate over the future of Mali is playing out just as France has declared an initial victory in their effort to drive back the Islamist offensive, which had seen fighters move south from their northern stronghold and capturing the town of Konna on Jan. 10. The insurgents put up a far tougher fight than the French had initially anticipated, extending their control over southern towns of Diabaly and Douentza.
"This operation has been a success so far," said France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud. "Its primary goal has been met: the terrorist offensive against the south has been stopped thanks to the joint action of the Malian and French forces. The towns of Diabaly, Konna, and Douentza have been retaken by the Malian forces, with French support."
But senior U.N. diplomats believe that the fight has only begun, and that armed insurgents have simply beat a tactical retreat, and are likely to begin using traditional guerrilla tactics, launching targeted raids on the allied forces remaining behind to hold towns recently abandoned by the rebels. Despite public claims that the Malian army has been engaged in the fighting, some Western diplomats have acknowledged that the Malian army had all but collapsed into total disarray, leaving it to France to do the fighting. With the first phase of the French counteroffensive concluded, France will now trying to train the Malians and other African forces to hold the towns they have captured.
"It appears that in the western area, armed elements have moved closer to the Mauritanian border," Jeffrey Feltman, the U.N. undersecretary general for political affairs, told the Security Council on Tuesday. "The risk of infiltration and further attacks by these groups on southern towns, including Bamako, remains high."
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France's President Francois Hollande today announced plans to increase the number of French troops in Mali, marking an escalation in France's intervention in its former colony.
Despite the socialist president's efforts to mark a break with a history of French meddling in Africa's affairs, Paris finds itself back in a familiar role in Africa.
Nearly two years ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy led international campaign to intervene in Libya to oust Muammar al-Qaddafi. He also ordered French forces to help U.N. peacekeepers take down Laurent Gbagbo, the former Ivoirian leader who refused to accept step down after losing his presidential election.
So, was France's intervention in Mali a return to its past or is it something different? "I don't think this is more of the same; I think this is part of an emerging model of intervention where counterterrorism is the core," said Bruce Jones, director of NYU's Center on Global Cooperation. He said the Mali operation bears more similarity with Somalia -- where U.S. forces target suspected terrorists while African troops provide security -- than it does with historical efforts to intervene to shore up African leaders.
Whatever the similarities, France's role in Africa was supposed to look different from this under Hollande.
In a recent visit to the continent, the French leader assured African audiences that the era of Franceafrique, a period marked by frequent French military intervention on behalf of Africa's post colonial autocrats, was done with.
"I didn't come to Africa to impose my way, or deliver a lesson on morality," Hollande told Senegal's parliament in October. "The era of Franceafrique is over. There is now a France and there is an Africa. And there is a partnership between France and Africa, based on relationships that are founded on respect," he added during the visit.
But others recalled that Sarkozy had initially vowed to end the era of Franceafrique, only to find himself responding to the French urge to act in Libya and Ivory Coast. That urge reflects the enduring influence of Africa’s traditional interventionists in French politics, and in the case of Mali, the fact that 6,000 French nationals live in Mali, most of them in Bamako.
“If we go back to when Sarkozy came into office and talked about the end of Franceafrique and surrounded himself with a new generation of French Africa advisors those guys lost out and within two years the old guard reasserted itself,” said Todd Moss, an expert on West Africa at the Center for Global Development. “I’m sure the old French guard is very, very powerful if they were able to maintain their influence under Sarkozy. I wouldn’t’ be surprised if it is strong under Hollande.”
But other diplomats say France’s calculation was simpler, noting that one of the Islamist factions fighting in Mali, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, already holds eight French hostages captured in Mali and neighboring states.
“You can’t neglect the fact that the French have a large population in Bamako,” said one European diplomat. “The Islamists were moving towards those people, raising the threat that hundreds more could have been taken hostage. I’m sure the French government felt it had a responsibility to them.”
Still, Mali was supposed to be a model of that new relationship.
When separatist Tuareg fighters, backed by armed Islamist groups linked to al Qaeda, seized control of northern Mali last year, France vowed to keep its expeditionary forces in their barracks. They turned to regional leaders, backed by the United Nations, to help Mali's troubled army confront the Islamists.
Last month, France championed a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing a European-backed, African-led force to train the Malian army and help it reconquer its northern territories. But the effort has been complicated by a number of factors, not least of which is the fact that Mali's army came to power by staging a military coup against the country's elected leader.
The planned force was plagued by delays, making it unlikely that it would even arrive in Mali until September or October, providing the rebels with a window of opportunity to strike. Last week, they seized it, and began marching towards the south, capturing the town of Konna, and threatening the strategic town of Mopti. Mali's U.S.-trained military collapsed.
France's U.N. envoy Gerard Araud on Monday told reporters outside the U.N. Security Council that France had reluctantly entered Mali.
"Our assessment was that they were totally able to take Bamako," he said. "So, we decided that what was at stake was the existence of the state of Mali and beyond Mali was the stability of all West Africa."
While France's military action has its critics inside France and beyond (former French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin denounced it), the strike has drawn widespread diplomatic, if not military, support.
The Group of 8 political directors today issued a statement welcoming the French military action. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. envoy and a vocal critic of the Western interventions in Libya, said Monday that France's intervention -- which followed a request for assistance from the Malian government -- was perfectly legal and that its operation enjoyed unanimous support in the 15-nation Security Council.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who had earlier cautioned that military intervention in Mali should be considered a last resort, backed the French move. The reaction from within the U.N. ranks could best be described as "quiet applause," said one senior U.N. official. "So many of us are so relieved, even though we don't know how this will end."
Jones said that the U.N.'s reticence about military action was driven primarily by concerns about "the limitations of their own capacity" to play a supporting role in an African-led war against Islamists in Mali. "I don't think the U.N. had any difficulty with having someone deal with al Qaeda in the Maghreb. They just didn't want to be in a position of doing it themselves. They were worried about taking on more than they could chew."
But having taken charge, France will be confronted with a new challenge: ensuring that its allies in the Malian army don't follow up any military victories by launching a revenge campaign against its enemies.
"There is no doubt that the human rights situation in Mali before the intervention was already catastrophic, with civilian populations suffering abuses at the hands of all the parties to the conflicts, whether Islamist groups, separatist rebels, as well as the Malian army itself," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "But the risks and human rights challenges that come with military intervention are many. It's important that neither the French nor [African peacekeepers] empower "the Malian army] to commit more."
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Key U.N. powers said today that Mali's military's arrest and ouster of the country's transitional leader, Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra, would not deter the U.N. Security Council from forging ahead with plans to intervene in Mali to confront Islamists militants in the north of the country. But it did little to paper over differences between the United States and France on how to get the job done.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, offered a decidedly uncharitable assessment of a French- and African-backed plan to retake control of northern Mali from a coalition of Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda. "It's crap," the U.S. envoy told a gathering of U.N.-based officials, according to one of the officials. Rice's office declined to comment.
The American envoy's assessment reflected deep misgivings that the Malian army, supported by a Nigerian-led coalition of 3,300 troops from 15 Western African countries has the manpower or the skills required to contend with a battle-tested insurgency with experience fighting in the Sahel's unforgiving desert. Rice's candor also deals a setback to a long, drawn-out effort by France and West African countries to secure U.N. Security Council mandate for a regional intervention force in Mali.
The United States is not alone in having misgivings. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently issued a report that argued against an immediate military intervention in Mali, saying the international community should devote its attention to stitching together a political agreement among Mali's squabbling groups, setting force aside as a "last resort." Herve Ladsous, the head of the U.N.'s peacekeeping department and one of the U.N.'s few advocates of military intervention, said recently that even if the intervention plan is approved it would take until September or October, 2013, for the international force to be deployed.
"We should not forget that in any military intervention, even when successful, tens of thousands more people are likely to become displaced both inside the country and across borders," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres told the Security Council on Monday. "Newly arriving refugees in the neighboring countries are increasingly citing the prospect of military intervention as one of the reasons that pushed them to flee."
Despite these concerns -- and Rice's frank remark -- the United States supports military action in Mali to confront Islamist militants. Just not yet. And not without a role for some of America's most important counterterrorism allies (principally Algeria) that are not members of the West African peacekeeping coalition, and which have so far proven reluctant to sign on to a risky fight with Mali's Islamists that could provoke the group's allies inside Algeria.
The predicament has contributed to the impression of American policymaking as confused in confronting the spread of terrorism and militant Islam in Mali, where insurgents have benefited from an influx of weapons from Libya in the wake of Muammar al-Qaddafi's downfall. But some officials believe the muddled picture is more a reflection of the fact that America's counterinsurgency strategy in the region remains a work in progress.
The Obama administration is seeking broader congressional support for counterterrorism operations in Mali and other northern African countries, while U.S. military planners have been pressing Mali's neighbors with desert fighting experience, including Algeria, Chad, and Mauritania, to participate in military action. William Burns, the U.S. deputy secretary of state, traveled to Algiers over the weekend to prod the government into deepening its role in Mali.
But American diplomats in New York have been urging the Security Council to go slowly, putting off a foreign campaign to confront the Islamists until a new president is elected.
Washington favors what it calls a "two-step authorization" of military force. The first step would involve the swift approval of a resolution authorizing the deployment of an African force to train the Malian army, which put up virtually no resistance to the Islamists, and would express an intention to conduct offensive operations in the north, but only if it is satisfied with a refined military plan -- known as a concept of operations -- that would be due to the council within 45 days. A second resolution, according to the U.S. plan, would authorize offensive operations in northern Mali, as well as a follow-up effort to stabilize a reconquered northern Mali. It remains unclear what military role the United States would play in the counterterrorism operation.
America's diplomatic caution reflects misgivings about the African military plan, questions about who will participate in -- and pay for -- the mission. But it is also stems from American legal constraints. The United States is prohibited by law from providing financial support to Mali's government because the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Toure was toppled in a military coup in March. Thus it is pressing Mali's interim government to hold presidential elections, initially scheduled for April 2013, before sending foreign armies into Mali to confront the Islamists.
"Mali needs now more than ever a strong democratic government to restore its democratic tradition and provide the strong leadership necessary to negotiate a political agreement with northern rebels, reform its security sector, and lead a military intervention in the north to restore and maintain Mali's territorial integrity," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said last week.
At the Security Council on Monday, Rice said the effort to confront al Qaeda in Mali will require a broader effort by governments in the region to combat transitional crime, including drug trafficking, and the proliferation of terror organizations. "The rise of violent extremism and organized crime across the region is aggravating the situation in Mali," she told the council.
Rice said there is a need to pursue a multifaceted strategy, including political, humanitarian, environmental, and military pieces, to address the crisis. "Given Mali's delicate situation, we must be careful to address the crises in Mali without further destabilizing the entire region," she said. "Any military intervention in Mali must thus be designed to minimize the operation's humanitarian impact and the impact on human rights." But she provided few insights into what role Washington would play in support of the counterinsurgency operation in Mali.
France agrees that the U.N. needs to pursue a coordinated strategy that addresses many of the country's political, humanitarian, and environmental needs. But it also believes that yesterday's ouster of Prime Minister Diarra only highlights the need for swift military action. "These developments underline the need for the rapid deployment of an African stabilization force," France's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Philippe Lalliot, told reporters on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The crisis in Mali underscores the rising threat of anti-Western Islamic militancy in North Africa and the Sahel. But it also marks the clearest evidence of blowback from the U.S.-backed military campaign that toppled Qaddafi.
Early this year, Touareg separatists -- many of whom served as Qaddafi's mercenaries -- fighting under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, struck an alliance with Islamist groups, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Ansar al-Dine, to fulfill their long-held dream of establishing an independent Touareg nation. Backed by an influx of weapons from the Libyan war, they quickly defeated the national army, triggering a military coup in the capital, Bamako, by younger officers angered that the government had not supplied them with enough military equipment to meet the fight in the north. But the Touaregs were quickly forced out of the way by their Islamist allies, who had little interest in securing Touareg independence.
The movement now claims control of more than half of the country's territory, including the key northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal, and Gao. U.N. and African mediators are trying to persuade more moderate factions to break ranks with militants linked to al Qaeda. While there have been some statements, U.N. diplomats say it is too early to say whether those efforts are succeeding or not.
Traore Rokiatou Guikine, Mali's minister for African integration, warned the U.N. Security Council last week that foreign Islamists are taking advantage of the security vacuum in northern Mali to consolidate their gains. "The deployment of the force is urgent," she said. "Terrorists have stepped up their activities and are seeking reinforcements to carry out jihad from Mali. Mali is on the way to becoming a breeding ground for terrorists."
The government in Bamako has received firm backing from France, South Africa, India, and other council members for a military response. "The situation in Mali requires an urgent response from the international community," South Africa's U.N. envoy Baso Sangqu said on Monday. "If left unchecked, the situation in the Sahel threatens to spread and affect the countries in the region and beyond, and pose a threat to international peace and security," said Sangqu.
France, meanwhile, favors the adoption of a single Security Council resolution authorizing a foreign intervention force by Christmas, although it could be many months before it is ever sent to Mali.
The French favor what they call a "two track" approach -- promoting a democratic political transition while training Malian security forces to conduct offensive military operations. Unlike the Americans, however, French officials believe it is illogical for the military operations to be put off until after Mali's presidential election, particularly as Malians living in territory seized by the Islamists would not be able to vote. "Do you think that al Qaeda will be securing voting booths for a fair election?" asked one Security Council diplomat.
And with Diarra now removed from office by the military officers who toppled his predeccesor, the country's political future is now even murkier.
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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today announced that France would support the Palestinian bid for recognition as a state at the United Nations, frustrating efforts by President Barack Obama to persuade the Palestinian leader to stand down. "For several years, France's official position has been to recognize the Palestinian state.... When the question will be asked, France will answer "Yes" for consistency's sake," Fabius told the French Parliament.
The remarks come two days before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to preside over a U.N. General Assembly vote on a resolution recognizing Palestine as a "non-member state" at the United Nations. Fabius's comment also appeared calculated to deliver a political boost to the Palestinian leader, who has been eclipsed by its more militant rival, Hamas, whose influence has risen with the fortunes of the region's Islamist governments, principally Egypt.
The new status would not confer on the Palestinian the status of a full U.N. member state, but could pave the way for admission in other international organizations, including the International Criminal Court, that do not require states parties to be full-fledged members of the United Nations.
A previous bid by the Palestinians to become a U.N. member state faltered more than a year ago in the face of firm American opposition within the U.N. Security Council.
The United States maintains that the Palestinian route to statehood should proceed through a negotiated peace settlement with the Israeli government. But such talks have been stalled.
European governments have been generally sympathetic to the Palestinian quest for statehood, but several capitals, including London and Berlin, have urged the Palestinians to back down, saying the move could undercut prospects for a resumption of future peace talks, and could damage its relations with President Obama, who has appealed with Abbas not to move forward.
"We have made consistently clear that we think that it is wrong for the Palestinians to bring this resolution to a vote at this time and that it isn't likely to be a helpful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East," Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant told reporters today. "But we have not made a decision yet that if it does come to a vote, how we will vote."
The Guardian reported that Britain has privately pledged to back Abbas if he pledges not to pursue Israel for war crimes through the International Criminal Court and agrees to return to the peace table with Israel without preconditions.
Germany is expected to vote against the measure or abstain on the grounds that the initiative provides little hope of advancing the prospects for peace in the region.
"Little can be achieved by it. If the Palestinians believe it will push the Israelis into negotiations we don't believe that. If they might have in mind to take the issue to the International Criminal Court it will not help, of course, from the perspective of a return to the negotiation table," said one senior U.N. based diplomat. "We fear Abbas is heading for a dangerous Phyrric victory ... the danger is the Palestinians will even more drastically and dramatically turn to Hamas when they see that Abbas has not brought anything tangible for them. It might backfire for Abbas."
But others say American and Israeli opposition to Abbas' statehood bid will backfire. "If the world wants to express support for the Palestinian party that recognizes Israel, seeks to avoid violence, and genuinely wishes to reach a peace agreement in which a Palestinian state exists alongside -- not instead of -- Israel, it will have its chance later this week when Mr. Abbas makes his bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood before the United Nations," Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords wrote in the New York Times. "If American and Israeli opposition to a Palestinian bid continues, it could serve as a mortal blow to Mr. Abbas, and end up being a prize that enhances the power and legitimacy of Hamas."
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The Masked Avengers, the notorious Canadian radio disc jockey duo, have struck again. Their latest victim: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The comic team of Marc-Antoine Audette and Sebastien Trudel is best known for tricking former GOP vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, three years ago into participating in a six-minute conversation with a fake French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Yesterday, in the middle of the U.N. General Assembly session, the duo placed a call to Ban, claiming that Canadian President Stephen Harper wanted to talk to him. Ban's staff pulled him out of a meeting to take the call.
Speaking in halting French, the fake Harper apologizes for not showing up for this week's General Assembly debate, explaining that he had another priority to attend to: "I was combing my hair with crazy glue," he explains in French.
"Excusé moi," Ban responds, sounding confused. "Is this Prime Minister Harper speaking?" he asks in French.
"Yes, hello, Stephen Harper speaking," the fake Harper responds, speaking now in English. "How are you Mr. Secretary General?"
"How are you, how are you?" Ban answers, sounding relieved to be speaking in English. But his confusion returns when the fake Harper appeals to the world's top diplomat to use his diplomatic skills to convince the head of the National Hockey League, Gary Bettman, to return the Quebec Nordiques (who were sold to Denver and have become the Colorado Avalanche) to Canada.
"Actually, I was calling you because the U.N. has to give the support to the return of the les Nordiques," Fake Harper explains.
"Pardon?" Ban asks.
"I was calling about the most important subject for us," Fake Harper says.
"Oh, I do not understand what you are saying," Ban says. "About what?"
"It's about the hockey team the Quebec Nordiques you have to speak to Gary Bettman to bring them back. Now it's a big situation."
A U.N. spokesman, Farhan Haq, confirmed that "the Secretary General did receive such a call and he very quickly realized it was a prank. He took it in the way it was intended -- as a joke."
"In this week of all weeks there are so many calls coming in from all over the world and from many delegations, and it was perhaps not the best use of his time, but these things can happen," Haq said. "It's obviously not supposed to happen and we will be listening out extra hard in future for poor French accents on the line from Canada."
In 2008, Audette posed as French President Nicolas Sarkozy and got a call through to Sarah Palin, just days before the U.S. election. Speaking in an exaggerated French accident, saying she would make a great president one day, and that he shared a passion with the governor for hunting.
"I just love killing those animals. Mmm, mmm, take away life, that is so fun," Fake Sarkozy told her.
"You know, I look forward to working with you and getting to meet you personally and your beautiful wife," Palin told Fake Sarkozy, referring to Carla Bruni. "Oh my goodness, you've added a lot of energy to your country with that beautiful family of yours."
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A U.N. panel set up last year to enforce an arms embargo in Libya has opened an inquiry into allegations that France and Qatar armed Libyan rebels involved in the overthrow of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's government, according to confidential report by the panel.
The eight-member panel has made no ruling on whether the allies of the rebel Libyan government violated sanctions -- and it remains unclear whether the panel will in the future -- given that France and other allies in the Security Council can exercise considerable authority over the panel.
Still, the report sheds new light on how the anti-Qaddafi opposition was able to transform a collection of militias and tribal leaders into a fighting force capable of defeating the government's superior military forces. And it includes acknowledgments by France and Qatar that they supplied military advisers to the insurgents to help prevent government attacks on civilians.
The report, which has not been made public, was distributed to the 15 governments that sit on the U.N. Security Council, and includes a stamp of the recipient country on each page, a practice that is used to limit leaks. But Turtle Bay obtained excerpts of the report from sources with access to it.
The panels' s findings come as Libya is trying to rebuild its military capability. Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy U.N. envoy, appealed to the Security Council earlier this month to lift the arms embargo, saying his government needs to buy new weapons to maintain security in the country and reinforce its borders.
The U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo, travel ban, and asset freeze on Libya on Feb. 26, 2011, in an effort to prevent Qaddafi from importing weapons to help him crush the popular uprising that ultimately led to his fall from power. They established a panel to enforce the sanctions.
On March 17, the Security Council, acting at the request of the United States, amended the embargo to permit some unspecified military support, providing flexibility to NATO forces enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya.
The role of foreign militaries in supporting the insurgents on the ground was an open secret during the conflict, but the legal basis for arming them was hotly debated.
At the time, the Security Council was sharply divided over whether the exemption applied to shipments of arms to the rebels. The United States and France argued that such shipments were permitted, particularly in instances where the weapons could be used to defend civilians from a government attack. But several other council members, including Brazil, China, India, South Africa, and Portugal -- which chairs the committee -- believed that it was not. Even Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, a strong supporter of the Libyan intervention, questioned the legality of arming the rebels.
The panel has relied on a combination of news reports and interviews with Libyan insurgents and officials from the former regime.
It cites a July 2011 interview in Benghazi, in which Qaddafi's defense minister, and an arms expert in the Libyan Ministry of Defense, accused Qatar of channeling massive amounts of weapons into Libya. "The panel was clearly informed that several countries were supporting the opposition through deliveries of arms and ammunition including Qatar," reads the report. "According to the same sources, between the beginning of the uprising and the day of the interview, approximately 20 flights had delivered materiel from Qatar to the revolutionaries in Libya, including French anti-tank weapons launchers, MILANS."
"A number of media reports indicate that Qatar supported the armed opposition to [Qaddafi] from early on in the conflict by participating in the NATO air operations, as well as through the direct provision of a range of military materiel and military personnel," the report added.
The panel honed in on a July 2011 report in a Swiss television program that stocks of Swiss-made M-80 rifle ammunition was used by anti-Qaddafi forces in Libya. The ammunition had been sold to Qatar in 2009, but Swiss authorities told the sanctions committee that the ammunition had been exported to Qatar under the condition that it not be re-exported to another buyer.
"Swiss authorities have thoroughly looked into this case and have been in contact with the authorities of Qatar," Johann Aeschlimann, a spokesman for the Swiss mission to the United Nations, told Turtle Bay. "For Switzerland, the case is settled. Switzerland has informed the panel of experts of the Libya sanctions committee of the UN Security Council in detail about this case."
The Qatari government denied supplying any weapons or ammunition to the insurgents, saying it did not know how the Swiss ammunition found its way into Libya. In a Feb. 12, 2012, letter Qatar informed the panel that it "sent a limited number of military personnel to provide military consultations to the revolutionaries, defend Libyan civilians and protect aid convoys and that it supplied those Qatari military personnel with limited army and ammunition for the purpose of self defense," according to the panel report. But Qatar "categorically denies the information reported by some media that it supplied the revolutionaries with arms and ammunition."
"If some of the afore-mentioned ammunition found its way to some Libyan revolutionaries, the Qatari government has no explanation other than the conditions of fierce fighting taking place in most of the Libyan territory, which could have lead to exceptional consequences that are difficult to assess."
On June 30, 2011, France informed the U.N. secretary general that it had "airdropped self-defense weapons for the civilian population that had been victims of attacks by Libyan armed forces," according to the panel. "In the absence of any other operational means of protecting these populations under threat."
On July 20, the panel asked France to provide them with "detailed information" on the arms drops, including "the exact types and quantities of weapons, serial/lot numbers, marking details of the different items and the dates and location(s) of the deliveries." According to the report, France provided some details, including the period and location of the airdrops, as well as "a list of humanitarian and military materiel." They asked the panel to keep the information confidential.
"France notified its actions as requested by the resolution and actively cooperates with the panel," Brieuc Pont, a spokesman for the French mission to the United Nations told Turtle Bay.Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy appears to have upstaged President Barack Obama, proposing a new plan to restart stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Only, his "French initiative" was all but identical to a proposal being negotiated by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton and Middle East Quartet leader Tony Blair. Sarkozy, it seems, borrowed it without asking.
Ashton and Blair have been engaged in intensive negotiations with the United States, Russia, Israel, the Palestinians, and key Arab governments in a search for a compromise deal that would avert a U.S. veto over a Palestinian statehood bid in the U.N. Security Council. Like Sarkozy's plan, it also envisions the resumption of talks
According to the arrangement, which has been described by sources familiar with the talks, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas would press ahead with his announced plan to present the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with a letter on Friday requesting U.N. membership in the United Nations. But he would then pack his bags and return home, without pressing for a vote.
Ban would then hand the letter to the U.N. Security Council, which must approve all requests for U.N. membership. The council would set up a committee to consider the request. The procedure would provide considerable scope for the United States, Britain, and France, which oppose a Palestinian vote, to stall action in the council.
"It appears likely that the U.S., with help from the U.K. and others, will use the committee to stall the Palestinian application and avoid the decision going to a vote in the UNSC," said Carne Ross, the executive director of Independent Diplomat, a non-profit diplomatic advisory group. There are various rules that are supposed to govern the work of the committee but in truth the council members can do what they want -- UNSC procedure is pretty malleable."
Meanwhile, the Europeans would work with the Palestinians to draft a resolution in the U.N. General Assembly that recognizes Palestine as a non-member observer state, acknowledges that the 1967 borders, with agreed swaps, would form the basis of any ultimate peace deal, and also cites the Jewish character of the state of Israel. There is also an effort to reach agreement that the Palestinians would pledge not to pursue action in the International Criminal Court against Israel while negotiations are underway.
A separate statement by the Middle East Quartet, which includes representatives from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, would set the timeline for political talks between the two parties.
It would call for the resumption of talks within four weeks, ask the Israelis and Palestinians to present detailed proposals for a peace deal within 3 months, and set a deadline for concluding and agreement on the two states' borders and security arrangements within six months. The following six months would be used to conclude negotiations on a final settlement of all outstanding issues between the two sides.
It is by no means certain that the Palestinians or the Israelis will accept the deal. Nabeel Shaath, a member of the Palestinian delegation in New York, said that while the Palestinians are open to discussing the ideas announced by Sarkozy, President Abbas had every intention of pressing for a vote. There will be no "political delay," he said.
Earlier this month, Abbas told reporters he had little faith in in the international mediators' effort to come up with a diplomatic deal to avert a clash at the United Nations. "I don't think it's workable," he said. "They came too late."
Shaath also reiterated the Palestinians' standard line that they will not resume talks unless the Israelis impose a freeze on settlements and agree to talk on the basis of several conditions, or parameters, including that any territorial discussion will be based on the border that existed between Arabs and Israelis before the 1967 war.
The negotiators, however, are counting on an unexpected development. The United States and its European allies have made progress in pressing Security Council members not to support a Palestinian statehood bid in the Security Council, raising the possibility that the Palestinians might not be able to muster the nine votes it needs for adoption of a resolution in the council.
But it remains unclear whether this development would be sufficient to restart the stalled talks, or whether Israel would accept any deal that included recognition of Palestine as a state.
"Peace is hard," Obama noted in his General Assembly address on Wednesday. "And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN - if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now."
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Pressure mounted this morning on Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to abandon his bid to become a U.N. member state in the face of a certain U.S. veto. Speaking before the U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama said that while the Palestinians "deserve a state of their own," they will only get one through direct negotiations with the Israelis.
In a speech to the General Assembly last year, Obama had built up hopes that the Palestinians might be accepted this month as the U.N.'s newest members, but only on the basis of an agreement between the Israeli and the Palestinians.
"I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. So am I," Obama said. "But the question isn't the goal we seek -- the question is how to reach it. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN -- if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.
As Obama delivered his speech, U.S. and Europeans diplomats worked intensively behind the scenes to convince Abbas to back down.
The Palestinian leader has pledged to deliver a formal application for membership to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday. Under U.N. rules, the secretary general is required to pass on the application to the U.N. Security Council, which must approve all requests for U.N. membership.
The U.S. has made it clear it will cast its veto to block the Palestinian's membership bid, setting the stage for the Palestinians to take the matter before the 193-member General Assembly, which has the power to grant the Palestinians non-member observer status.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy today proposed that the Palestinians avoid a confrontation in the Security Council and go directly to the General Assembly, where they can secure observers status. In exchange for this concession, he said, the international community should establish a roadmap for a peace deal within a year.
"Today we are facing a very difficult choice. Each of us knows that Palestine cannot immediately obtain full and complete recognition of the status of United Nations member state," he said. "But who could doubt that a veto at the Security Council risks engendering a cycle of violence in the Middle East?"
Sarkozy proposed that talks could begin within a month, with a target of reaching a deal on borders and security assurances within six months, and a full-fledged deal within a year. In the meantime, the Palestinians would be rewarded with an elevated standing at the United Nations, allowing them to pursue membership in U.N. agencies and treaty bodies, including the International Criminal Court.
"Why not envisage offering Palestine the status of United Nations observer state? This would be an important step forward. Most important, it would mean emerging from a state of immobility that favors only the extremists. We would be restoring hope by marking progress towards the final status," he said.
It remained unclear whether the Palestinians and Israelis would accept the new approach. But Security Council diplomats also said that the Palestinians are facing a new problem: They may not have the nine votes required for passage of a resolution in the 15-seat Security Council -- which would mean that the United States wouldn't even have to use its veto power. The council's four European members -- Britain, France, Germany, and Portugal -- are considering abstaining on the vote. Bosnia, a Muslim country seeking European Union membership, and Colombia, a close ally of the United States and Israel, are under pressure not to support the vote. Gabon is said to be on the fence.
Brazil, however, which has a seat on the Security Council, will likely back the Palestinian statehood push. "I regret that today I still cannot welcome Palestine's full membership in the United Nations. Brazil already recognizes the Palestinian State within the 1967 borders, in a manner consistent with U.N. resolutions," said Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff in her remarks before the General Assembly. "Like the majority of the countries in this assembly, we believe that the time has come for Palestine to be fully represented here."
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Last night, the U.N.'s top peacekeeping official, Alain Le Roy, hinted that the United Nations, backed by French forces, may have to resume helicopter gunship strikes against the forces of Ivorian strongman Laurent Gbagbo in order to protect his political rival, Alassane Ouattara. Ouattara defeated Gbagbo in Ivory Coast's U.N. certified president election in November, and he has gone on to win wide backing from the U.N. and foreign governments in Africa and beyond.
But Ouattara's standing as Ivory Coast's new leader is already being tarnished amid reports that forces loyal to his cause have engaged in gross human rights abuses during an offensive aimed at driving Gbagbo from power. Last night, Human Rights Watch released a damning report that accuses Ouattara's forces of killing hundreds of civilians, raping more than 20, and burning at least 10 villages during a military offensive last month.
The report also documents post-election atrocities by Gbagbo's loyalists, who have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and murder against members of ethnic groups believed loyal to Ouattara and against U.N. personnel who are protecting the president elect. For instance, the report uncovered evidence that on March 28 pro-Gbagbo forces massacred more than 100 men, women and children in the northern Ivorian village of Bloléquin. The following day, they killed another ten people in the town of Guiglo.
"To understand the tragic events in Côte d'Ivoire, a line cannot be drawn between north and south, or supporters of Gbagbo and Ouattara," Daniel Bekele, Human Rights Watch's Africa director said in a statement. "Unfortunately, there are those on both sides who have shown little regard for the dignity of human life."
But the reports focus is primarily on violence carried out by Ouattara's forces against members of the pro-Gbagbo ethnic Guéré as they advanced across the country in a month-long offensive, capturing Gbagbo-controlled towns of Toulepleu, Doké, Bloléquin, Duékoué, and Guiglo in western Ivory Coast.
"People interviewed by Human Rights Watch described how, in village after village, pro-Ouattara forces, now called the Republican Forces of Côte d'Ivoire (Forces Républicaines de Côte d'Ivoire, FRCI), summarily executed and raped perceived Gbagbo supporters in their homes, as they worked in the fields, as they fled, or as they tried to hide in the bush," according to a report released by Human Rights Watch. "The fighters often targeted people by ethnicity, and the attacks disproportionally affected those too old or feeble to flee."
Outtara's army is comprised of a lose coalition of former Ivorian rebels from the north and former Ivorian soldiers and police that defected from Gbagbo's security forces. The former rebels, known as the Forces Nouvelles, as well as Gbagbo's forces had committed serious atrocities during the countries previous civil war in 2002. The U.N., human rights groups and foreign governments have urged both sides to prevent such abuses in the current round of fighting. So far, the call hasn't been heeded.
"The month-long onslaught of abuses against Guéré civilians in the far west, which began in late February, culminated in the massacre of hundreds in the town of Duékoué on March 29," according to the Human Rights Watch report. "After securing the town that morning, fighters from the Republican Forces - accompanied by two pro-Ouattara militia groups - proceeded to the Gbagbo-stronghold neighborhood of Carrefour. Eight women told Human Rights Watch that pro-Ouattara forces dragged men, young and old, out of their homes and executed them with machetes and guns in the street, sometimes with multiple rounds of bullets. While committing the often gruesome killings, some attackers threatened "to kill the Guéré until the last one" because of their support for Gbagbo."
Ouattara's government has previously denied allegations that its troops have engaged in atrocities, and has offered to cooperate with an independent probe into allegations of atrocities at Duékoué. But Ouattara's U.N. envoy, Youssoufou Bamba, declined to respond to the specific allegations in the report, telling Turtle Bay he had only received a copy of it this morning and hadn't had time to form an official response.
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Lebanon, Britain and France on Tuesday introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would grant sweeping authority to states to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya and use "all necessary measures," including military force, to protect civilians and grant access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, according to a confidential draft of the resolution obtained by Turtle Bay.
The draft would require states to notify U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before taking action to protection civilians. The initiative, which emphasizes the role of the Arab League in the effort, received a cool reception from several council members, including China, Russia, India, and Germany, which argued that they need to hear far more about the details of the plan before proceeding to a vote.
The draft resolution would also reinforce an arms embargo on Libya and tighten a travel ban and financial sanctions recently imposed on Muammar al-Qaddafi, his relatives, and other close associates. It also calls for the establishment of a panel of up to eight experts to monitor enforcement of the sanctions.
Lebanon's U.N. ambassador, Nawaf Salam, said tonight that his government, in cooperation with Libya's renegade U.N. mission, wrote the provisions in the draft establishing the no-fly zone, while Britain and France took the lead in drafting the provisions that call for "strengthening and widening of sanctions [recently] imposed on Libya." The sanctions provisions are considered far less controversial than the no-fly zone, and have secured broader support in the council.
Here are the resolution's key provisions.
*Acting Under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,
*Demands an immediate end to attacks on the civilian population and reiterates its call for steps to fulfil the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
*Demands that the Qaddafi regime comply with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law and take all measures to protect civilians and meet their basic needs, and to ensure the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance.
*Decides to establish a ban on all flights in the airspace of the Libyan Arab Jamahariya in order to help protect civilians. [There is an exemption for humanitarian flights or flights used to evacuate foreign nationals.]
*Authorizes Member States to take all necessary measures to enforce compliance with the ban on flights … and to prevent any use of aircraft for aerial attacks against the civilian population, and requests the States concerned in cooperation with the League of Arab States to coordinate closely with the Secretary General on the measures they are taking to implement this ban.
*Calls upon all Member States and regional organizations to provide assistance, including any necessary over-flight approvals.
*Authorizes members of the League of Arab States and other States which have notified the secretary general, who are acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting with the cooperation with the Secretary General, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian objects in the Libyan Arab Jamahariya, and to make available humanitarian and related assistance.
*Decides that all States shall deny permission to any Libyan commercial aircraft, including Libyan Air, to take off from, land in or land in their territory unless the particular flight has been approved in advance by [a U.N. Security Council] committee.
*Affirms that assets frozen pursuant to resolution 1970(2011) and this resolution must be made available to and for the benefit of the Libyan people.
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Despite repeated talk about the possible establishment of a U.N.-authorized no fly zone, Britain, France and the United States have yet to table a no-fly resolution in the U.N. Security Council. The caution reflects reservations over the plan in Washington, D.C. and African and Arab capitals and the reluctance of Western powers to intervene in the Libyan crisis without broad regional backing.
On Monday, Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined three requirements for the imposition of a no-fly zone: there must be a clear trigger, possible a bloody crackdown on civilians; there must regional support from African and Arab governments; and there must be a legal basis for pressing ahead. (It was unclear whether today's reports of civilians casualties, including women and children, in Zawiyah would constitute such a trigger.)
Many council members believe a Security Council vote is legally required for the creation of a no-fly-zone. But Britain, France and the United States have previously enforced a no-fly zone over Iraq without Security Council approval, citing the overwhelming humanitarian demands of intervening to protect civilians.
For the time being, Britain and France, who have taken the lead in negotiating the draft resolution establishing a no fly zone, are expected to await the outcome of high-level meetings of the Arab League and the African Union later this week before deciding to introduce their draft to the 15-nation council.
Still, in a closed-door session of the council this morning, Britain and France sought to prod the council into preparing for action, saying that a week old resolution calling for an end to government violence has not succeeded.
Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall-Grant expressed concern about the "risk of a civil war" in Libya and said the council needs to "consider further steps" to rein in Col. Moammar Qadaffi's government," council sources told Turtle Bay. France's U.N. ambassador Gerard Araud said the council needs to consider "all options, including a no fly zone," according to the sources, who provided a detailed account of the meeting.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, took a slightly more cautious approach, saying that while the council may have to consider range of options, including "strengthening sanctions...no one option is the silver bullet." Germany's U.N. ambassador, Peter Wittig, also raised the prospect of tightening sanctions, proposing possible new restrictions on the Libyan financial sector.
The council's other members, including China and Russia, pushed back, saying it is too early to consider stepping up pressure on Qaddafi's regime. Libyans, they argue, should sort out their own problems. Brazil's U.N. ambassador, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti said that it was not the right time to consider further "coercive measures" against Libya.
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A top U.S. official claimed Thursday that as many as 200 people have been killed in post-election violence in Ivory Coast as followers of the country’s long-term ruler, Laurent Gbagbo, stepped up a campaign of violence and intimidation to help him cling to power. Pro-Gbagbo gangs were marking the homes of members of ethnic groups aligned with his opponent, raising concern that they would be targeted in violent attacks.
The spreading violence came as the U.S., France and key African states launched an effort to recruit reinforcements for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, where some 6,000 Ivoirians fled violence for safety to Liberia. They also sought to bolster the international standing of Ivory Coast’s new leader, Alassane Ouatttara, whose new U.N. envoy was recognized by the world body on Tuesday.
“President Alassane Dramane Ouattar is the legitimately elected leader of Cote d’Ivoire,” said Betty King, the U.S. representative to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Speaking at a special session of the rights commission on Ivory Coast, King said the U.S. has “credible reports that almost 200 people may have already been killed, with dozens more tortured or mistreated, and others have been snatched from their home in the middle of the night." See the rest of my article in the Washington Post.
Diplomatic immunity meets U.S. airport security
India’s U.N. ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, ran head first into the Transportation Security Administration’s enhanced airport searches, as a Texas agent demanded he be allowed to inspect the foreign dignitaries turban. The incident underscores the sometimes bumpy relationship between the TSA and foreign delegations traveling to the United States in an era of heightened security. See the rest of my article in the Washington Post
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Next week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet in New York with diplomats from more than 180 countries at the eighth review conference of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (pdf), the Cold War pact that determines who can have nuclear weapons and who can't. The nuclear accord obliges the five original nuclear powers to disarm while exacting a pledge from other countries not to pursue nuclear weapons. In exchange, those that foreswore atomic weapons were assured the right to develop nuclear energy programs, under the monitoring of U.N. inspectors.
The Obama administration will seek to use the nearly month-long conference to plug gaps in a landmark agreement that has significantly limited the spread of nuclear weapons but enabled a small number of nuclear proliferators, including Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il, to develop clandestine atomic weapons programs under the nose of U.N. weapons inspectors.
The nuclear conference has gained increased urgency as concerns about global warming have fueled renewed interest in nuclear power, and the prospects of lucrative international trade in nuclear fuel. The U.S. wants to strengthen U.N. monitoring of nuclear-energy programs and to impose greater controls over the production and trade in enriched of uranium to ensure that Iran and other potential proliferators will not succeed in completing another nuclear weapons program. But American diplomats -- who see the conference as an opportunity to reinvigorate the NPT -- insist that they respect and recognize the rights of non-weapons states to develop peaceful nuclear energy programs.
Still, U.S. President Barack Obama is facing a major challenge to his nuclear vision from countries in the developing world that feel the nuclear treaty has been applied unfairly. Many states harbor a festering resentment against the major nuclear powers, saying they have used the NPT to establish an entrenched class system that guarantees their own nuclear defense, and that of allies like India, Israel, and Pakistan, but exposes the vast majority of U.N. members to the threat of nuclear annihilation. They are loath to accept new demands imposed by the big powers that would curb their own rights to develop nuclear power, or to participate in a burgeoning nuclear trade.
Call it the nuclear caste system. The Obama administration's ability to balance the interests of these various players and to strike a new nuclear bargain in the coming weeks may well determine whether the frayed nuclear bargain can survive another generation.
If you really want to piss off a French diplomat, tell him he has to speak in English at the United
Nations, where French is still one of the two official working languages.
Gérard Araud, France's typically suave U.N. ambassador, briefly lost his cool today when U.N. technicians failed to bring a supply of headsets to allow simultaneous interpretation from French to English at a U.N. press briefing. Araud, who is serving as the rotating president of the security council this month, slammed his hands on the table, crossed his arms and tapped his fingers impatiently.
Initially, he refused requests from the press to carry on the briefing in English, which he speaks well. "I don't speak English, first. Point," he said in English. "Let's be serious, this is not the way it works," he continued, this time in French. "There are six languages in this organization and we speak all six of them. This is simply unacceptable."
After it became clear that no headsets were coming, Araud quickly regained his composure and his sense of humor, and offered a compromise. He would respond to questions from English-speaking reporters in English and French journalists in French.
"I'm happy to do it in Spanish, Chinese, French and English," he said.
Here's a link to the U.N. webcast archive. The Araud briefing is the first one. There's an English interpretation.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.